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For many students across the nation, back to school means more than shopping for new pencils, backpacks and clothes. It’s time to start searching for the right college or preparing for the first year away from home. While either experience can be daunting for teens and parents alike, several new books guide readers through the college selection process, the transition to college and even adventurous alternatives to the traditional university route.

“No future decision will carry as much social visibility as the college choice,” contends college advisor and author Joyce Slayton Mitchell. In her accessible 8 First Choices: An Expert’s Strategies for Getting into College, she eases high school students’ pressure by walking them step by step through the college admissions process—from testing, researching universities and selecting eight first choices to how financial aid works and how to nail the college essay, application and interview. In an age where college applications are at an all-time high and still on the rise, she shows the specifics deans are looking for, with tips from some of the most selective universities. Mitchell also describes how to demonstrate diversity, personalize the college selection process and stand out among thousands of applications, even if you’re an overrepresented applicant. Above all, she encourages high school students to take ownership of the decisions that will direct their future. In a concluding chapter to parents, she addresses their concerns while gently reminding them to foster their children’s independence in this character-building experience.

Temptation Island
For young women who’ve earned a spot in college (hopefully, one of their eight first choices), U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything offers hip yet down-to-earth suggestions on all areas of campus life. More than 30 women who’ve recently graduated from universities across the country give an insider’s scoop on getting along with roommates, dorm decorating, sororities, college perks and thriving when in the minority. While they touch upon studying and other ways to succeed in class, deciding on a major, campus safety, budgets, exercise and nutrition, the majority of this guide is dedicated to topics that parents tend to avoid. As one contributor writes, “College is the ultimate Temptation Island.” Whether it’s ditching the dorm and getting more involved on campus, “tech etiquette for a Facebook Age,” the dating scene, sex ed, “dormcest,” partying responsibly, depression or eating disorders, the authors dish it out with frank advice on surviving the newfound freedoms and temptations.

Letting go
Teenagers may think they know everything, but they can always use some help making the switch from high school to college. So can parents. Marie Pinak Carr’s Sending Your Child to College: The Prepared Parent’s Operational Manual provides myriad tips for parents’ new role and for preparing their children for the next big step in their lives. Kicking off with the mountains of required paperwork and making sure they aren’t billed twice for insurance, this chatty guide also reminds parents about checking accounts, budgets, laundry, campus safety, alcohol and drug use and other important topics they need to discuss with their fledgling collegiates. While some chapters focus on more serious matters, such as navigating campus, travel arrangements, health care and car emergencies, other chapters on furnishing a dorm room and thematic care packages remember the fun side of college. For parents who really want to stay connected, there’s even a quick chapter on volunteer possibilities, whether near or far from campus. But it’s the extensive checklists and forms throughout that are reasons enough to purchase this useful manual.

While the book above touches on the practical side of college, Marjorie Savage’s You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child Through the College Years focuses on the emotional transition—for students and parents—and makes an excellent companion guide. For parents who want to give their children space but also want to know how soon they can call after settling them into their dorms, this comprehensive book explains the change from primary caregiver to proud mentor and supporter. It addresses how college affects the entire family, from students’ range of emotions, especially in their first six weeks away from home, to ways parents can avoid empty nest feelings. Always encouraging parents to help and not “helicopter,” the author does let them know when their insights are important to share in such matters as finances, health, safety and the social scene. Each chapter concludes with a list of “Quick Tips for Students” for parents to pass along to their children. And just when parents are starting to grasp their new relationships with their children, they come home again. Luckily, there’s a section that covers this adjustment, too!

Going global
If all the talk of standardized tests, college applications and high tuition rates are causing extreme dizziness and heart palpitations, then the “anti-college prep handbook” The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education may be the best guide yet. In the summer of 2005, author Maya Frost, her husband and four teenage daughters left their suburban life in Oregon to live around the world. Whether parents are considering sending their high school- or college-age children to study abroad or the “full-family deal,” a short stay or total immersion, Frost describes how all of these options focus on children’s total development rather than just on their education and help prepare them for a global workplace. While packing up the family and moving to a foreign country may seem scary or like a glamorous never-ending vacation, the author also explains how to let go of fear, numerous expat misconceptions and key qualities for making the experience a success. A plethora of first-hand statements from experienced travelers reveals invaluable insight and the inspiration to get up and go—abroad.

Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.

For many students across the nation, back to school means more than shopping for new pencils, backpacks and clothes. It’s time to start searching for the right college or preparing for the first year away from home. While either experience can be daunting for teens and parents alike, several new books guide readers through the […]
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As students gear up for school, here are four picks to help parents make the most of their child’s education, from preschool to college.

THE RIGHT START
The subtitle of Jenifer Wana’s preschool primer says it all: “The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School.” Type A moms everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief because How To Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child will save you loads of time navigating essays, interviews, applications and recommendation letters. Beginning at least a year before your child starts school, Wana offers organizational tips for researching, visiting and enrolling in preschool. This process might seem straightforward—your little tyke is only three after all—but the to-do’s are daunting.

Wana helps you determine what’s most important to you and your child in choosing the right preschool (location and cost are biggies for most families). To help you narrow down the options, she includes helpful overviews of different preschool types (Montessori, play-based, Waldorf and others) and comprehensive instructions on researching and evaluating schools.

Wana provides lots of questions that will make you look smart to the discerning admissions officer and even offers acceptably pushy tips on getting off the waiting list. Once little Susie is accepted to the perfect school, a countdown will get the whole family ready for the big day.

KINDGERGARTEN SUCCESS
Regardless of whether they attend public or private school, most children will be given some sort of IQ test by the age of five. Author Karen Quinn has written a comprehensive guide to this secret world in Testing for Kindergarten. It’s a process foreign to most parents, and these early test scores don’t even correlate well to later success. However, the tests have enormous impact on whether a child will get into a competitive private kindergarten or a free public gifted program.

Quinn turned herself into an expert on the topic after her son Sam was faced with developmental delays caused by hearing problems. At age three, he scored in the 37th percentile. After Quinn’s intervention, he scored in the 94th.

Testing for Kindergarten shows how every parent can improve their child’s abilities and scores. First, Quinn explains the most common IQ tests and the seven abilities they measure. Then she helps parents refocus the way they interact with their child to start sneaking learning into everyday life. Daily Life Lessons are easy ideas, like what to do while setting the table, and there are loads of games and activities.

Quinn keeps the overload factor down by focusing on the most important things you can start on day one (dialogic reading, talking to your child constantly). Don’t miss this empowering guide.

SINCERE SLACKERS
As most parents know, boys are different from girls when it comes to organization, time management and study skills. Author Ana Homayoun outlines her specially designed organizational system for preteen and teenage boys in That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. This professional tutor says boys’ struggles in school are rarely due to difficulties with the class material. Instead, disorganization is the root cause.

To get boys back on track, Homayoun outlines a practical plan that focuses on building skills rather than just improving grades. She identifies five factors that add up to chronic disorganization: trouble with multi-tasking, over-involved parents, technology distractions, sleep deprivation and fear of making wrong choices. Parents play a key role in implementing change, starting by identifying their son’s dis-organizational style (the overscheduled procrastinator or the sincere slacker) and helping their sons set three academic and three personal goals.

The specific to-do’s are geared for maximum efficiency. Prepare an organized binder for each class. Don’t do homework in the bedroom; instead try the dining room table. Turn off the music, and put away the cell phone and computer. A five-week strategy for implementing the straightforward advice helps parents and boys see results fast.

COLLEGE BOUND
From the author of the bestseller The Naked Roommate comes The Happiest Kid on Campus, a practical parents’ guide to helping your child get the most out of the emotional and tumultuous college years.

Author Harlan Cohen writes with a wise, funny point of view. He’s young enough to understand kids these days and help parents avoid major eye-rolling on touchy subjects like sex, drugs and alcohol. Pretty much any topic that parents are embarrassed to talk about with their kids is covered with sensitivity and common-sense advice.

Cohen also helps tech-illiterate parents navigate the muddy waters of texting, Twitter and Facebook. He says email is out of date, so if you do want to keep in touch, learn to text. But limit it to twice a week.

Cohen has plenty of advice on practical matters, including handling orientation, packing, move-in day and the basics of financial aid and, of course, dealing with difficult roommates. This handy guide will help parents survive the first few months until your child finds his place on campus.

As students gear up for school, here are four picks to help parents make the most of their child’s education, from preschool to college. THE RIGHT START The subtitle of Jenifer Wana’s preschool primer says it all: “The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School.” Type A moms everywhere can breathe […]
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All four of these featured books take their philosophical cue from the title of Bob Dylan’s album Bringing It All Back Home. The best way to help your kids have fun learning at school is to make your home a place where what happens at school really matters. In the process, you’ll also be helping school become a place where what happens at home—love and support, study habits and simple values—really matters.

WHICH SCHOOL?

We all want our kids to go the best school. The question is, what does “best” mean? Turns out, despite the fact that today’s parents are more educated, motivated and informed than ever, we are short on the skills needed to evaluate the quality of our children’s schools. The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve can change this. Peg Tyre, author of the best-selling The Trouble with Boys, gives parents a crash course in what to look for. She focuses on “seven essential domains of education” we need to know in order to help preschool, elementary and middle school children. These include test scores, class size, teacher quality and the best practices in teaching reading and math. Each chapter investigates a topic starting with a bit of history, details of current practices (good and bad), a checklist of questions for each school and a handy list of “take aways,” thoughts to keep in mind as you investigate. The checklists in particular make it easy for even the most overwhelmed (or clueless) parent to become “a more sophisticated member of your child’s learning community.”

LIVING TO WRITE

Literacy expert Pam Allyn has already written the definitive book for parents on reading, What to Read When. Now she turns her attention to writing with Your Child’s Writing Life. Why do kids need a “writing life?” Allyn give three research-based reasons: Writing “fosters a child’s emotional growth,” “helps develop critical thinking skills” and “leads to a guaranteed improvement in academic achievement.” Plus, a love of writing is a gift that can last a lifetime.

Parents can unlock a child’s potential with “Five Keys” embedded in the acronym WRITE: word power, ritual, independence, time, environment. These can be tailored to each child’s “personal comfort and unique learning style” and energized with easy, creative prompts. A chapter on the stages of writing development helps parents understand a child’s changing capabilities and enthusiasms. Allyn gives tips on creating an appropriate environment for each stage from birth up, including recommendations for books, activities, toys or materials, plus a list of “writing elements” a child might exhibit. Chapters on common challenges (like fear and frustration), great books to inspire writing and cures for writer’s block (by age group) round out a groundbreaking resource.

BE THE CHANGE

The End of Molasses Classes teaches that home and school should and can “support each other in the education of all children.” Ron Clark, named “America’s Educator,” author of the best-selling The Essential 55 and founder of a revolutionary teaching academy, knows firsthand how a few basic changes can transform a classroom, a school and a child’s entire life. Clark shares 101 strategies, some for teachers, some for parents, all aimed at helping kids succeed, in the best and widest sense of the word.

For example, parents can cultivate drama-free mornings so the school day can start right, read all the communication sent home from school, get to know other school parents, use car time to talk about what children are learning and stop rewarding kids for doing a mediocre job.Examples for any adult include: “set the tone for a love of learning,” “define your expectations and then raise the bar,” “uplift those who help raise your children,” “listen,” “provide students with a chance to shine” and simply “have fun.” Clark will help parents keep molasses un-metaphorical and right where it belongs: on cornbread and biscuits, not in classrooms.

TIMELESS TEACHINGS

When a report card from the year 1915 turned up among a beloved uncle’s effects, authors and family educators Barbara C. Unell and Bob Unell noticed a “Home Report” section completed by parents and returned to the teacher. It included topics like “things made,” “books read,” “money earned,” “manners” and “hours worked,” and, by its very presence, made the assumption that the best education comes from an active partnership between school and home. The discovery inspired Uncle Dan’s Report Card: From Toddlers to Teenagers, Helping Our Children Build Strength of Character with Healthy Habits and Values Every Day. The authors argue that student learning and development is not just about academic achievement, but about the whole child. To succeed in school and in life, all kids “need structure, rules, routines and boundaries to feel calm and secure.” Parents, on the other end, need to know what to teach and how to teach it. The book gives the timeless tools and tips that can inspire kids to want to learn good habits, follow a “commonsense code of conduct” and become more self-sufficient. Everyone wins: parents, teachers, kids and the community.

All four of these featured books take their philosophical cue from the title of Bob Dylan’s album Bringing It All Back Home. The best way to help your kids have fun learning at school is to make your home a place where what happens at school really matters. In the process, you’ll also be helping […]
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National debates on education reform have never been fiercer. Four new memoirs that range from inspiring to determined to hilarious fuel the discussion as their authors reflect on challenges and innovations in public schools, charter schools, educational nonprofit programs and even homeschooling.

ROOKIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Before his successful career in acting, Tony Danza earned a degree in history education, fully intending to become a teacher. When he found himself pushing 60, separated from his wife of more than 20 years and dealing with the cancellation of his talk show, Danza decided to return to his first, unfulfilled passion: teaching. His year spent as a 10th grade English teacher at Northeast High, an inner-city public school in Philadelphia, was depicted in the brief 2010 A&E television series, “Teach.” In I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, to be published in September, he gives an enlightening, behind-the-scenes look at what happened when the cameras weren’t filming.

In his toughest role yet, with his harshest critics seated right in front of him, a tearful and frustrated Danza struggles to uphold the school’s mantra—“engage the students.” Often at odds with his producers, who only want to heighten the drama for television, he fights to keep his experience as authentic as possible for both himself and his students. His observations about teaching, from wondering how technology will shape the way kids learn to the emphasis on testing, echo common national concerns. With the help of his “half-sandwich club,” based on his father’s practice of sharing his sandwiches, he reaches out to any student in need. Ultimately finding teaching to be rewarding yet emotionally grueling, Danza brings the profession the recognition it deserves in this touching and candid account.

A BORN LEADER
Founder and CEO of Harlem Village Academies Deborah Kenny has always believed in social justice, but after her husband’s death from leukemia in 2001, she realized that if she really wanted to make a difference in the world, she would have to put her sadness aside. Born to Rise chronicles her arduous path to open not one but two charter schools in Harlem neighborhoods that had some of New York’s lowest test scores. In a time when there was little information on starting a charter school in the state of New York, Kenny quit her job and raised her three children on her meager savings while building the schools’ framework, seeking startup funding and performing hundreds of other pivotal tasks.

Deciding early on that an ideal school should focus on hiring and developing superior teachers rather than setting up a curriculum to be strictly followed, Kenny revolutionized public education. Her heartfelt narration reveals numerous mistakes along the way, from not remembering to have the school building unlocked on the first day to forgetting her own sense of fun amid the business of running a school, and celebrates such triumphs as ranking first in math scores across the state’s public schools and the bittersweet farewell of Harlem Village Academies’ first high school graduates. In the process of building these schools, Kenny realizes that she’s also built a culture and community. Anyone interested in school reform—whether parents, teachers or leaders—should begin with this powerful story.

ANNUAL GIVING
A Year Up by Gerald Chertavian shows that school age children are not America’s only underserved population. As the nation’s demand for high-quality, entry-level workers increases, an estimated 5 million young adults ages 18-24 are currently unemployed and don’t possess more than a high school diploma. Suddenly a multi-millionaire when his startup dot-com business was sold and inspired by his “little brother” David, from the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program, social entrepreneur Chertavian created Year Up, a nonprofit workforce development program for urban young adults, in 2000. Starting with 22 students from Boston’s tough inner-city neighborhoods, the thriving program has spread to eight additional cities.

Chertavian describes with sincerity and detail the journey toward implementing this one-year program that combines marketable computer skills with professional skills, followed by an internship with a top company. He also profiles numerous students and staff who have overcome such hardships as homelessness, poverty, neighborhoods infested with drugs and violence, limited education and the responsibilities of single parenting. Some of his key decisions, like placing Year Up centers in downtown financial districts to get students out of their dangerous neighborhoods and into the setting of the corporate world, reveal the secrets of his success. Most importantly, Chertavian demonstrates that an investment in America’s young people is an investment in America’s future.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Frustrated by her daughter Alice’s constant finagling out of doing her math homework and not, as they say, “reaching her full potential,” Quinn Cummings decided to give homeschooling a try for one year. Assuming that the homeschool movement began in the U.S. during colonial times (it did start in the U.S., but not until 1982), she gives herself homework, exploring the nearly 2 million homeschooled children and myriad homeschooling philosophies. The result is the frank and irreverent The Year of Learning Dangerously: Adventures in Homeschooling in which the former child actor from The Goodbye Girl and the 1970s television drama “Family” searches for the ideal way to homeschool her daughter (and validate her decision).

Cummings doesn’t limit her information gathering to Google searches. She observes children without limits at a Radical Unschooling conference in Boston, chaperones a Christian homeschool prom in Indiana, sneaks into the Sacramento convention of a secretive, ultra-authoritarian Christian sect and engages in other laugh-out-loud encounters, all in the name of research. Hearing over and over again about the doomed fate of homeschoolers—no socialization—she interjects French lessons, team sports and the playground into Alice’s repertoire, all with mixed results. Realizing that some of Alice’s best learning—and bonding—occurred on their routine hikes, Cummings also discovers that there’s no typical homeschool family, just as giving children their best start isn’t limited to one curriculum.

National debates on education reform have never been fiercer. Four new memoirs that range from inspiring to determined to hilarious fuel the discussion as their authors reflect on challenges and innovations in public schools, charter schools, educational nonprofit programs and even homeschooling. ROOKIE IN THE CLASSROOMBefore his successful career in acting, Tony Danza earned a […]
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From New York to Los Angeles and from the White House’s backyard to classrooms across the country, education is weighing on the minds of many Americans. Four new books tackle some of the key challenges that continue to stir debate. Confronting the effects of standardized testing, racial disparity, child poverty, teacher morale and quality teaching, these books offer no-holds-barred accounts of the state of education.

NEVER GIVE UP

Rafe Esquith—who has spent 30-plus years teaching fifth and sixth graders at Los Angeles’ impoverished Hobart Boulevard Elementary School and is known for transforming his students through Shakespearean performances (as depicted in the documentary film The Hobart Shakespeareans)—returns with his signature wit and wisdom in Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!” Esquith’s focus in his fourth book is more on morale than teaching tips. Dividing the book into sections for new teachers, mid-career teachers and classroom veterans, Esquith keeps it real, indeed, as he begins with his best advice: “You are going to have bad days.” Using humorous and memorable anecdotes from his own time in the classroom, he recognizes the isolation, exhaustion, jealousy, blame and guilt that come with teaching and encourages teachers not to give up. Whether discussing out-of-touch administrators, confrontational parents, apathetic students or the current era of high-stakes testing, the best-selling author reminds teachers to choose their character over their reputation and find balance in their professional and personal lives. Ever inspirational, Esquith shows educators that the best teaching is a journey, not a race to the top.

Respect for teachers and higher expectations for students are among the keys to success.

ONE SCHOOL’S PROUD PAST

Once touted as “The Greatest Negro High School in the World” by the NAACP, Dunbar High School of Washington, D.C., was recently categorized as a failing school. Inspired by her parents (both Dunbar graduates), award-winning journalist Alison Stewart traces the school’s path from prestige to decline in First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School. Upon its opening, Dunbar became synonymous with academic rigor, graduating such notable alums as Eva Dykes, the first African-American woman to receive a doctoral degree, and Edward Brooke, the first African American popularly elected to the Senate, as well as prominent scientists, artists, musicians, playwrights and civil rights activists. Its faculty included some of the most highly educated black teachers of the era, since Jim Crow laws barred them from working at other institutions. But as the neighborhoods surrounding Dunbar suffered economic and social woes, so, too, did the high school. When the author visited Dunbar, she was staggered to discover the faded glory of a building in disrepair and low-performing students with few dreams of college. Her detailed account of the school’s history firmly situates Dunbar in the broader context of the country’s educational reform and struggle for racial equality. As Dunbar looks to rebuild itself with a new building, new teachers and new students, Stewart sees a hopeful future.

A YEAR ON THE FRONT LINES

Formerly a senior vice president in publishing, John Owens traded a comfy office for a classroom in one of New York City’s tough South Bronx neighborhoods because he wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. Based on an article he wrote for Salon.com, which immediately went viral, Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education recounts Owens’ first—and only—year in a high school he calls Latinate. He explains how, within days, he became a victim of his “crazed visionary manager” (aka the principal he refers to as Ms. P.) who set unattainable school-wide goals, terrorized teachers with threats of “unsatisfactory” rankings and filled folders with hard-working teachers’ presumed misdeeds. Owens uses vignettes from his teaching experience to introduce problems in the American educational system, most notably how teachers are blamed for today’s failing public schools and how the “witch-hunt” for bad teachers is destroying classrooms. He also emphatically addresses how the data-driven school reform movement leaves principals with all the power (even turning some into cheating “Bernie Madoffs of test scores”) and teachers with ineffective evaluations. His concluding lessons are a heartfelt call to action.

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES

When the U.S. scored 26th in critical thinking in math, below the average for the developed world, acclaimed journalist Amanda Ripley wondered why some students learned more and others less than their global counterparts. The result is The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, in which the author follows three teens in different parts of the world through a year of high school. She purposely selected Finland, South Korea and Poland, nations that recently ranked much lower among their developed peers but now rank well above the U.S. In Finland, Ripley found teacher preparation programs as selective as those for U.S. medical schools. In Korea, parents acted as coaches to their children, compared to American parents who act more like cheerleaders. While poverty has been cited as a factor in America’s failing schools, Poland, with an even higher poverty rate than the U.S., delayed tracking students until the end of their school careers. Although Ripley observed three different approaches, she also observed commonality and perhaps the key to success: respect for teachers and higher expectations for students.

Ripley’s stirring investigation debunks many tenets of current education reform—but are U.S. leaders listening?

From New York to Los Angeles and from the White House’s backyard to classrooms across the country, education is weighing on the minds of many Americans. Four new books tackle some of the key challenges that continue to stir debate. Confronting the effects of standardized testing, racial disparity, child poverty, teacher morale and quality teaching, […]
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As a new school year begins, four new titles reveal that teachers can but do change lives in classrooms every day. Chronicling how teachers adapt to change, improve their methods and even learn from their own students, these books will appeal to all those interested in the impact of education. 

LEARNING TO TEACH
Do some teachers have natural  qualities that make them more effective educators? Elizabeth Green, editor-in-chief of website Chalkbeat New York, explores that question in Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone). Expanding on an essay she wrote for the New York Times Magazine, Green gives a historical overview of studies on teaching, from the perspectives of such experts as behavioral and cognitive psychologists, educational specialists, economists and entrepreneurs. Among those cited are noted individuals in the field of education, including Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, and mathematics teaching specialists Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball. Green also reflects on whether such recent developments as No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Common Core have influenced teacher performance. Using numerous examples of instructional methods and students’ reactions to math problems, Green shows how teaching is anything but natural work. In this era of high-stakes standards, with an emphasis on accountability but little guidance, the author makes the case through thoughtful details that great teachers are made, not born. As Green advocates for practice-based teacher education, she brings hope and renewal to the field.

OUR CHANGING SCHOOLS
Just as he reflected on the state of dying bookstores in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee turns to the plight of declining public schools in the slim yet moving Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom. Admittedly an average student, Buzbee attended California public schools when they were ranked first in the nation. Now these same schools scrape the bottom at 48th or 49th. To try to understand this fall, the author returns to the same schools he attended as a child and teenager. As he recalls visceral moments during his education, from learning to read with Ginn and Co. textbooks to the terror of locker room nakedness in P.E., Buzbee offers short, appealing histories of such staples as kindergartens, blackboards and school buses, and explains how they transformed the American school environment. He never forgets the most important asset in any school—the teachers—and recalls how they changed his own life after his father died. But in this era of budget cuts, metal detectors and teachers forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, Buzbee also draws attention to the social, political and economic changes needed to create better schools. Part personal recollection, part history lesson, part call to action, Blackboard is all eloquence.

BACK IN THE CLASSROOM
When his wife changed jobs and his family needed health insurance, Garret Keizer returned, after a 14-year hiatus, to teaching at the same high school where he started his career 30 years earlier. A contributing editor of Harper’s magazine, author (Privacy) and a former Guggenheim Fellow, Keizer documents a one-year stint as an English teacher in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, one of the state’s poorest regions, in Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher. This candid month-by-month account describes his time with his working-class students, as he wonders what they will do for employment and how to prepare them properly. Trying to make connections with his students and peers and keep his “ancient” teaching techniques alive—despite his students’ reluctance to consult books and a decimated library replaced with computers for reading—he finds education vastly transformed since he last set foot in a classroom. Much of Keizer’s memoir is dedicated to the biggest changes: uniform instruction (i.e., state and Common Core standards) and computerized productivity tools. Ironically, the latter make him devote more time to data and less time to educational substance. Readers will empathize with Keizer’s bittersweet feelings in June, when school is out and another year is not an option.

CONTINUING EDUCATION
When Kim Bearden began her career as an educator, she assumed she would be the one doing all the teaching in her classroom. Instead, she recognizes the insight and wisdom she’s gleaned from her students in Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me. Drawing on 27 years of experience as a teacher, curriculum director, middle school principal and cofounder of the Ron Clark Academy (an innovative, internationally renowned middle school in Atlanta), Bearden offers anecdotes, analogies and examples of creative problem-solving. Related in Bearden’s down-to-earth voice, these honest and uplifting lessons show the importance of relationship building, tenacity, gratitude and even magic and play. Bearden explains how she and her students “do see color,” embracing and celebrating differences in culture. She shows that we sometimes have to identify the greatness in others before they see it for themselves, and that our individual talents, which may seem like misshapen puzzle pieces, can fit together to make a beautiful picture. While the author gives a teacher’s perspective, the recommendations here are applicable to anyone who works with youth or the public.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As a new school year begins, four new titles reveal that teachers can but do change lives in classrooms every day. Chronicling how teachers adapt to change, improve their methods and even learn from their own students, these books will appeal to all those interested in the impact of education.
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Between high-stakes testing and the high price of college, school can seem stressful and uninviting. But four new books show how education can inspire children, uplift communities and transform the future.

BEATING IMPOSSIBLE ODDS
For Kristina Rizga, what started as a reporting assignment for Mother Jones turned into a four-year investigation of San Francisco’s Mission High School. When she first entered Mission High—a school of 950 incredibly diverse students from more than 40 countries; 75 percent are poor and 38 percent are English language learners—it was one of the lowest performing schools in the country. It was also at a crossroads, forced to face its subpar test scores or prepare for serious government intervention. In Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph, Rizga delivers an intimate look at how an alternative, progressive approach to education works at this school. 

Accessible and thoroughly researched, Rizga’s book covers a brief history of America’s education reform and the path to high-stakes testing, and weaves in profiles of Mission’s students and faculty. These profiles form the heart of the book, showing students who find community and success (even if not measurable by a multiple-choice test), teachers who provide encouragement, personalized instruction and more meaningful assessments, and a principal who refuses to “teach to the test” and gives teachers a say in developing curriculum. Through their accounts, Rizga makes a strong case against test scores as a way to monitor individual learning and for teachers being in charge of school reform and accountability.

OPENING MINDS AND WALLETS
For many families, going to college is one of the biggest expenses they will ever undertake. Understandably, they want a return on this investment. But with no definite information on the payoff, the answer is never a simple yes or no. In Will College Pay Off?, Peter Cappelli examines factors that will determine whether a college or four-year degree program is worthwhile.

Cappelli focuses on the changing relationship between college and the workplace. As companies increasingly expect certain skills in recent graduates, colleges have found themselves in the middle of a dysfunctional supply chain. Many have responded with a massive shift toward programs that target niches in the job market and promise job skills. Cappelli asserts that the push away from the liberal arts may actually be hindering students’ chances of finding jobs after graduation.

He also dispels many myths about college education and the labor market, such as the rumor that there is a shortage of talent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, or that students just need to pick “practical” majors with a clear path to jobs. The best chances for a return on a college education, Cappelli contends, come through simply finishing college in a timely manner and considering a career as a marathon, not a sprint.

MAKING HERSTORY
Once your daughter, granddaughter or niece has been admitted to college, The Her Campus Guide to College Life should be requisite reading. Authored by the writers and editors of HerCampus.com, this guide’s direct, conversational style covers concerns like safety—both on and off campus—healthy eating habits, getting enough sleep and homesickness while also including advice for smarter alcohol consumption and the warning signs of addiction. The Her Campus Guide also breaks down ways to manage a wide variety of relationships, from roommates (including roommate conflicts and contracts) and resident assistants to professors and even “frenemies.” The chapter on dating, hooking up and sex offers straightforward, no-nonsense advice on “dormcest,” what to expect with first-time sex and other difficult, real-world topics.

Later sections cover balancing studying with extracurriculars, Greek life and social media as well as tips on managing money and landing an internship or first professional job. A variety of checklists and wellness check-ins keep this guide interactive and make it ideal for both individual use and sharing.

IN THE FAST LANE
Veteran educators may know Ron Clark from his New York Times bestseller The Essential 55, with rules about manners and success for the classroom and beyond. The former Disney Teacher of the Year Award winner and co-founder of the nationally recognized Ron Clark Academy returns with Move Your Bus. Once again he blends Southern charm with a direct approach to inspire high performance.

Clark begins with a parable of an organization like a Flintstones-style bus powered by the passengers. He then defines five types of individuals on the bus: runners (the force behind the success), joggers (who meet basic expectations), walkers (who plod through their jobs), riders (who are dead weight) and drivers (who steer an organization). To make a bus, or organization, move, Clark declares that more runners are needed and that the desire to run is in all of us.

He continues the bus parable throughout, offering practical and encouraging tips on how to become a runner. While seemingly easy advice such as asking for help, accepting criticism and listening more than talking requires deep reflection. Clark’s personal experiences, as well as anecdotes from his teaching staff, highlight the tips in action. Although examples come from Clark’s teaching career, this guide is great for teams, committees, businesses or any organized group that wants to move forward—and enjoy the ride.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Between high-stakes testing and the high price of college, school can seem stressful and uninviting. But four new books show how education can inspire children, uplift communities and transform the future.
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As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.

GETTING PERSONAL
When Denver teacher Kyle Schwartz gave each of her third graders a sticky note and the prompt, “I wish my teacher knew,” she was floored by the heartfelt responses from children who described their painful home lives, the loneliness they face, the things that bring them joy and pride, and their hopes for the future. Schwartz began tweeting her students’ answers and was surprised when her seemingly simple exercise went viral.

She explains the phenomenon in I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids. Schwartz opens with an overview of the project’s purpose: to create community and a positive learning environment for every child. She argues that teachers can make an impact on children’s lives in many difficult areas, including poverty, grief and loss, trauma and accepting families in all their forms. Detailed Teacher Tools provide suggestions for transforming any classroom or school into a greater community. After reading Schwartz’s book, teachers will be inspired to join the #IWishMyTeacherKnew movement and get to know their students better.

BRIDGING THE GAP
Before receiving funding in 2010 to open a small public middle school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, principal Nadia Lopez envisioned her students crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Even though they live near this architectural marvel, most had never seen it, let alone walked across it. Crossing the bridge would not only become a rite of passage for these students, it would also come to symbolize the connection between their difficult past and a brighter future.

In The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World, the compassionate yet no-nonsense Lopez describes how she started from scratch to build a school that became a beacon of hope, determination and success. If her story sounds familiar, it’s because her accomplishments drew widespread praise after a student revealed them on the popular Humans of New York blog. In this stirring account, Lopez reveals that listening to her students and seeing them as individuals despite their harsh environment have made all the difference.

COUNTING ON SUCCESS
Successful teaching is the best preventative discipline method. Recognizing that teachers and kids aren’t perfect, however, 1-2-3 Magic in the Classroom: Effective Discipline for Pre-K through Grade 8 offers easy-to-implement strategies as a backup. Authors Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., and Sarah Jane Schonour, M.A., based this guide for educators on 1-2-3 Magic, a bestselling discipline guide for parents.

After learning about the “teacher in charge” method that uses counting and non-judgmental consequences, readers are introduced to “start” behaviors (such as doing classwork) and “stop” behaviors (such as yelling). The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding the two biggest discipline mistakes: too much talking and too much emotion. To help with implementation, they present numerous scenarios to think about or role play.

For educators who worry about more serious discipline problems, disciplining students with developmental differences or discipline at different grade levels, the guide includes comprehensive Q&As and more scenarios from the trenches. It might not be true magic, but if used successfully, this technique will feel like it.

FINDING ALTERNATIVES
Manufacturing in the United States is rebounding, and according to Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston, many fast-growing occupations are considered “middle skill.” Labor force -shortages have already occurred in jobs that require education beyond high school, but not a four-year college degree. Reskilling America offers a convincing argument for bringing back vocational education.

Beginning with a history of vocational education and the transition to “college for all,” which left many students, particularly minority men, without career prospects, the thought-provoking text emphasizes investment in training institutions, both in high schools and community colleges. It looks to Germany as a model for relationships between industry and education that have fostered a robust dual system combining vocational education with apprenticeships. The authors describe the success of this system, Germany’s attempt at creating similar programs in the U.S. and the slow revival of vocational education in U.S. schools. Not just funding—but a renewed respect for middle-skill labor—might be the key to success in this country.

FILLING IN
Award-winning author Nicholson Baker has tackled such daunting subjects as World War II, library preservation, poetry and even erotic stories. He takes on perhaps his most unwieldy topic yet—the state of American education—in Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids. In this hefty volume, to be published September 6, Baker recounts the 28 days he spent in Maine’s public schools in 2014 as “the lowest-ranking participant in American education: a substitute teacher.” With a clean criminal record and “a willingness to tolerate your own ineptitude,” plus a short evening course that would earn him an extra $5 per day, Baker had all he needed to substitute.

Each chapter, representing one day, gives a snapshot into a classroom, from kindergarten to high school special education math. Rather than provide commentary, the author lets the teacher’s sub plans, classroom environment and dialogue with and between students guide each chapter. The result is an often chaotic, exhausting—and entertaining—view of the school day in which he is usually saved by coffee, an eager student and the final bell. Baker emerges with empathetic appreciation for all the students and teachers who bear these ups and downs daily.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As the start of a new school year approaches, five new books show the differences made in the lives of students by connected educators, a productive environment and even an agreeable substitute teacher.
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From China to the neighborhood down the street, parents and educators around the world are continually pondering the best environments, teaching methods and curricula for today’s young people. To guide their decisions, we’re highlighting five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

Public, private, charter, online, home, magnet—the list goes on. With so many educational options, how do parents choose the best one for their child? Luckily, Kevin Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 50 books on parenting and relationships, offers Education a la Carte: Choosing the Best Schooling Options for Your Child. This no-nonsense guide discusses the possible benefits of each kind of school environment and focuses on finding the right fit for each child.

Leman will ease parents’ tension as he addresses typical concerns and shows how learning styles, birth order and parenting styles all factor into the decision process. Additional chapters cover topics such as preschool and kindergarten readiness, homework and grades. No matter the subject, Leman encourages parents to keep realistic expectations and to motivate with approval rather than criticism.

LAST LAUGH
Liberal arts majors are often the punchline of jokes. In You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author George Anders reveals that liberal arts majors are overtaking jobs once reserved for graduates with computer science and business degrees. He highlights the irony that, as tech fields become increasingly dependent on automation, the need for the human touch has never been more essential.

Anders explains how liberal arts majors offer valuable critical thinking skills and gives examples of individuals whose liberal arts degrees took them down unexpected paths. For instance, Bess Yount, who holds a sociology degree, is on Facebook’s sales and marketing team, and Stewart Butterfield, a philosophy major, now runs Slack Technologies. While the book is geared toward recent grads, even career switchers can benefit from the job strategies and insight into the dozens of major companies actively recruiting liberal arts majors. Above all, Anders shows that success is rarely a straight line.

WEST MEETS EAST
When Chinese-American journalist Lenora Chu and her husband took jobs in Shanghai, they eagerly enrolled their 3-year-old son, Rainey, in Soong Qing Ling, an elite “kindergarten” that would instill academic drive seemingly missing in the U.S. The author discovered that while Rainey outpaced his American counterparts in math and language, he was also subjected to harsh discipline, propaganda and extreme competition. The latter even led to bribery, with Chu finding herself gifting Coach purses in exchange for school opportunities.

Struck by these differences, Chu was curious about the Chinese education system. The result is Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve. Mixing personal anecdotes, observations of Chinese classrooms, interviews with parents and students and thought-provoking facts about Chinese education, the author reveals how yingshi jiaoyu—high-stakes testing—has created a culture of stress and conformity. Although Chinese schools have been influenced to some degree by Western ideals, such as creativity and independence, she notes that, ironically, American schools increasingly emphasize test taking. In the end, Chu lets readers consider what skills a 21st-century student needs and offers insight on the future of global education.

TEACHERS, BREATHE EASY
As British educator Katherine Weare reminds readers, schools are busy, pressured environments where teachers and students are often more concerned with the future than enjoying the present moment of learning. Weare and co-author Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and international peace activist, also recognize that teachers typically focus on others’ needs over their own. Their secular collaboration, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, brings mindfulness to teachers and students.

Essays from Nhat Hanh set a reassuring mood to prepare for mindfulness exercises, while the second part of the book explains ties between these techniques and valuable education traits. Weare also addresses best practices and shows how mindfulness can be integrated in specific curriculum areas. Once comfortable with these practices, teachers can move on to suggestions for cultivating mindfulness across school communities.

FINNISHING SCHOOL
Even after experiencing burnout his first year of teaching, Timothy D. Walker, a contributing writer on education issues for The Atlantic, still espoused that good teachers “don’t do short workdays” but rather “push themselves—to the limit.” That is, until he relocated to his Finnish wife’s home country to teach elementary school. While educators around the world have recognized Finland’s consistent top scores in reading, math and science on international tests, the author was instead struck by how joy was prioritized in Finnish schools.

In Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms, Walker offers realistic tips on creating joyful schools, arranged according to five “ingredients” of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery and mindset. From scheduling brain breaks to cultivating a community of adults who share responsibility for a child to discussing grades so students can reflect on their learning, the tips are prefaced with lively anecdotes from the author’s own classroom experiences and often reveal how he overcame American biases to embrace them. While some strategies may need to be adapted to individual schools, they all highlight how we can learn to value happiness more than achievement.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

We’ve highlighted five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.

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With plenty of observations on success, love and health, The Algebra of Happiness offers concise, invaluable lessons on how to create a joy-filled life. Author and NYU professor Scott Galloway gives glimpses into his own experiences, like how he was initially rejected from UCLA but later wrote the admissions office, got accepted and then ended up founding nine firms and being named one of the “World’s 50 Best Business School Professors.” But that kind of success isn’t everything: “In the end,” Galloway concludes, “relationships are all that matter.”

For more on living well, you can’t go wrong with The Atlas of Happiness. Expanding on the hygge craze, happiness researcher Helen Russell takes readers on a world tour, presenting “a catalog of cultural customs” on living well. This attractive, intriguing book—chock-full of colorful illustrations and breezy, informative essays—will be enjoyed by all, young or old. 

Those who are college-bound may want to put How to College at the top of their summer reading list. This no-nonsense, comprehensive guide covers everything from term papers to roommates and on-campus health care. Author and professor Andrea Malkin Brenner knows the nitty-gritty, having created American University’s first-year experience course. This book is well-organized and packed with tips, illustrated charts and useful exercises.

The way to a college student’s heart is often through their stomach, and at some point cafeteria food is bound to get tiresome. Katie Sullivan Morford’s Prep is the perfect antidote, filled with plenty of basics and crystal-clear instructions. Recipes include dishes like Spicy Sweet Potato Rounds and Mix-in-the-Pan Applesauce Cake (with frosting!), while other chapters cover topics like “Fix a Killer Plate of Pasta” and “Turn a Pot of Beans Into a Meal.” This is a wonderful crash course in Cooking 101.

Got a graduate in your life? Give the priceless gift of wisdom with one of these four books.
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As students and teachers prepare for fall, these timely books explore the ways in which education both fails and finds us. As each memoir here shows, we can shape the future of our world simply by rethinking the way we learn.

Learning by Heart

Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and a longtime education specialist, examines the ways in which the structures of American education fail to respect the individuality of each student in his memoir, Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education. After being kicked out of several boarding schools and failing out of college twice, Wagner began to pursue learning not for the sake of earning an “education” but rather for the love of knowledge. This passion sent him on a journey to discover how he could provide that same opportunity to students educated in more classical environments. Traveling far from his New England home to study in Mexico, Wagner eventually returned to America’s most hallowed and traditional halls at Harvard University to challenge widely accepted paradigms of learning.

These books represent the best of what education could offer, if we would only believe in the power of each person’s individual story.

Readers who are frustrated by conventional schooling will recognize Wagner’s fascinating narrative as their own. However, it’s worth noting that Wagner’s journey ends positively thanks in part to his proximity to certain societal privileges. Though he tries to acknowledge this privilege at points throughout the memoir, it’s not difficult for the reader to imagine how this story might differ if it were told from the perspective of someone with access to fewer resources and opportunities.

Why Did I Get a B?

In contrast, Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge addresses issues of disparity in education and chronicles author Shannon Reed’s growth from a traditionally successful middle-­class student to an actively passionate teacher with an expansive background in preschool, middle school, high school and college classrooms. Having come from a family of educators, Reed describes her movement toward teaching as an inevitable call. “After nineteen years as a teacher, I can no longer shrug helplessly, pretending I don’t know how I ended up in this career,” she writes. “If you are what you do, then it is what I am.” Her writing honors her struggles while also making fun of her own misconceptions about teaching.

Divided into comical essays and sincere meditations, Why Did I Get a B? provides an accurate depiction of how many teachers feel about their careers. Educators will appreciate the particular brand of nerdy sarcasm that pervades Reed’s book—and they may even recognize it as one of the quirks teachers must develop to survive in the world of education. However, anyone not in that world will enjoy the book, too, as an honest look into how teachers’ brains work to solve problems and do what’s best for their kids, while also just trying to stay alive.

Kid Quixotes

This sentiment also undergirds Kid Quixotes: A Group of Students, Their Teacher, and the One-Room School Where Everything Is Possible, which details author Stephen Haff’s personal experience with bipolar depression alongside his efforts to construct a creative and individualized learning environment for kids in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Kid Quixotes weaves together the narrative of Haff’s teaching career and the stories of his students, who are largely members of the Latinx immigrant community. These kids, who seek solace in Haff’s Still Waters in a Storm after-school program, translate Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote from its original Spanish into English and then into their own interpretative play over the course of five years. This process of reading, writing and translating allows Haff to uncover the complexities of each child’s life story, and he encourages them to bring those personal experiences to life through the play.

Each of Haff’s students speaks out from the pages of this book and implores readers to hear their voice. In particular, Haff spotlights the voice of a young girl named Sarah, the “Kid Quixote” of Still Waters, who speaks prophetically both to the other children and to the reader. After she tells her first story at Still Waters, Haff remarks that the other children were “stunned, as if they had just met God.” The reader also feels this moment’s transcendence, which continues throughout the book.

One of the final sequences in Kid Quixotes describes the response of a writer who had been invited to work with the students at Still Waters. After her encounter, she said she viewed these students differently, seeing them as “intellectual equals.” Haff’s work at Still Waters, Reed’s reflections and Wagner’s memoir all ask us to do this same work. By respecting students as equals with something to offer, rather than as receptacles for information, we allow their powerful stories to change our broken world. These books represent the best of what education could offer, if we would only believe in the power of each person’s individual story.

As students and teachers prepare for fall, these timely books explore the ways in which education both fails and finds us. As each memoir here shows, we can shape the future of our world simply by rethinking the way we learn. Learning by Heart Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and […]

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